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Israel Wants US States to Enforce Anti-BDS Laws Against Ben & Jerry's

Published: July 22, 2021
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Israeli leaders are furious with the American ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s for announcing that it will stop selling products in the occupied Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US, sent letters to the governors of the 35 US states that have laws on the books against the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that calls for a global boycott to pressure Israel over its occupation and other human rights abuses.

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"I ask that you consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relations to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben and Jerry’s and your state," Erdan said in the letter that he sent Tuesday, which he coordinated with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

Erdan said Israel views Ben and Jerry’s decision as "the de-facto adoption of antisemitic practices." Lapid made similar comments on Twitter. "Ben & Jerry’s decision represents shameful surrender to antisemitism, to BDS and to all that is wrong with the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish discourse," the foreign minister wrote on Monday.

Lapid also vowed to contact US governors in states with anti-BDS laws. "Over 30 states in the United States have passed anti-BDS legislation in recent years. I plan on asking each of them to enforce these laws against Ben & Jerry’s. They will not treat the State of Israel like this without a response," he said.

The anti-BDS laws, which Israeli officials lobbied states to pass, deny state funds to those who advocate for the boycott of Israel and require state contractors to sign oaths pledging not to boycott the Jewish state. The laws are a clear violation of the First Amendment and are always ruled unconstitutional when brought to court.

Vermont, the state Ben and Jerry’s is based in, does not have anti-BDS laws on the books. It’s not clear how other states’ anti-BDS laws could affect Ben & Jerry’s, but Israeli officials are exploring other ways to go after the ice cream company.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke with the head of Unilever, a consumer goods company of which Ben & Jerry’s is a subsidiary. According to a statement from Bennett’s office, the Israeli leader told Unilever CEO Alan Jope that Ben & Jerry’s decision will have "severe consequences" and said Israel will take "strong action."

The US State Department on Tuesday reaffirmed that the Biden administration is against the BDS movement, but declined to comment on Ben & Jerry’s decision. "I don’t have a reaction to offer regarding the actions of a private company. More broadly what I would say is that we firmly reject the BDS movement, which unfairly singles out Israel," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Disclosure: Antiwar.com has received donations in the past from Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s

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